What I think about: Covid

Or is it coronavirus? I actually don’t even care, because whatever it’s called, I’m frustrated. Just like any other sickness that my family has had the displeasure of catching, this virus has the potential to jack with us so hard. During any given cold & flu season, House Toni is down for at least 4 weeks every single time even one of us brings home something contagious, so that by the end of March, after we have all cycled through, say, flu and strep throat, and a vicious norovirus, I feel like we’ve been through a whole war, and Caleb always ends up missing way more work than he needs to.

It must be nice…

With 8 people under one roof (4 of those people being aged 5 and under, 2 of those people being caretakers to the other SIX, and 1 of those people being the sole financial provider for all of them, and ZERO of the people having health insurance at the moment; plus an immunocompromised elderly person to take care of), the ability to casually consider this pandemic as a liberal media hoax is simply not an option. While I do realize that not everything in the news is 100% trustworthy these days, I absolutely do not have the luxury to fully buy into conspiracy theories and urban myths about fudged numbers and false data.

We wear the masks. We don’t go to gatherings of 10 or more people. We social distance. We are selective in what we do participate in—and who we participate with. We wash our hands and take our vitamins, and occasionally we get together with a small number of like-minded friends. We also respect the opinions and choices of those in our social circle who are on a different page.

Continuing this routine, when it seems like everyone around us is living it up mask-less and carefree all over town, has been one of the suckiest things we’ve ever had to commit to doing. Even more difficult is smiling and nodding when well-meaning people earnestly try to explain to me why they believe my efforts are most likely in vain based on stories they’ve heard from their second cousin’s ex-girlfriend’s brother’s dog.

I don’t feel the need to defend my intelligence or my decisions, but I will say that I try to heed the advice of my friends who are medical professionals, who are treating patients, young and old, in hot spots across the country as I type this. Even with all the questionable reports and one-sided articles floating around on the internet, there is enough solid evidence, nationally & globally, to suggest that this new disease is something to take seriously—and shame on the people who scoff at those who are trying to do just that.

I realize that in a month, when school starts, the proverbial floodgates will open and my kids will probably literally ingest all the Covid. They’ll bring it home on the first day and sneeze it directly into my eye and that’ll be that. I’ve made my peace with it. Maybe we’ll have insurance by then. Maybe we won’t. Maybe this really is all fake news that will mysteriously just disappear after November; or maybe our whole country will be down for the count by Christmas, and there will be widespread famine and cherry coke shortages, governmental collapse and anarchy and every-man-for-himself walking-dead type crap. I’ve made peace with that too.

What I have yet to come to grips with is this (and this is some real talk because my gut honesty is a lot harder to put out there than my common-sense logical thoughts):

How do we assimilate ourselves back into society after being separated for so long from our friends, whose family set-ups and circumstances now seem so vastly different from our own?

How do I settle back into a routine with people that I now struggle to relate to?

How do I talk with people who have so strongly disagreed with the way I have navigated my family through this pandemic?

How do I look into the eyes of people who have openly ridiculed the caution taken by families like mine? How do I play nice with people who I feel have so flippantly and arrogantly disregarded the most basic safety measures designed to protect families like mine?

How do I ask for grace when I am struggling to show grace? How do I ask for forgiveness when my own heart feels so angry for no reason? How do I cope with the loneliness that has settled so deep in my soul during this time of quarantine?

These are the things that keep me up at night, not catching a virus.


Poor in spirit

With my family still in an ongoing but modified quarantine, it goes without saying that I’ve had a little extra time on my hands this summer. I parent. I wife. I run, I walk. I bake. I garden. I read. I skim news sites and scroll through social media. I watch dvds. All this activity has…had its effects.

I’ve also (thankfully, for everyone who has to put up with me) had more time to read my Bible and pray–so healing, btw–but since I’m not doing a formal bible study led by someone far more theologically learned than I, fumbling through The Beatitudes (go big or go home, I guess?) like a moron has been my approach of choice, followed by peeping the commentary at the bottom of the page every five seconds to decipher certain words or phrases, and asking God to show me something cool.

Matthew 5: 3 reads “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

I’ve read this a thousand times, somehow always subliminally brushing it aside since “poor” (financially) doesn’t really apply to me, and “in spirit” doesn’t seem to fit either. (Once again assuming that “poor in spirit” to be just another quality in a long list of whimpy characteristics exemplified in only the uber-est of Christians.) Who wants to be sad all the time, even if it leads to me being blessed? Get outta here, first Beatitude!

But, since I have committed myself to digging in, I reread. I consult the commentary, I cross-reference other verses in the Old and New Testaments, and I find out that “poor in spirit” refers to something less related to lack of coin or to perpetual sadness, and more to do with humility and complete dependence on God.

I’m forced to consider my own humility, which is never a pleasant thing to do, since I am forever battling my pride. Gosh, I love being right. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t important to me. I love being a knowledgeable authority on pretty much anything–sadly this is not often the case, and I have to reckon with my ignorance and unwarranted haughtiness. It pains me.

And God continually humbles me.

A dear friend of mine read right into my struggles with this particular verse and offered this insight:

In Hebrew, the beatitudes are translated not “blessed are those who are poor in spirit” as if being poor in spirit must preclude being blessed. Rather, it is said to read “how joyful are the poor in spirit!” Those with humble hearts are inherently joyful (which explains why I’m so angsty in my pride). Humility is the opposite of what the girl-power, goal-crushing world I live in prizes; why would I ever want to take the position of one who is crouched down in poverty and brokenness (the actual Hebrew translation for “the poor” in this particular verse) when I have worked so hard to achieve so much? Have I not earned at least some applause? Do I have to be sad?

But the accomplishments and attitudes valued by men hold little importance to God–who absolutely expects me to crouch down in my spiritual poverty and brokenness, because last time He checked, Toni didn’t die on a cross to save mankind.

I am nothing without God’s mercy and grace. I depend on Him for every single breath I take or piece of food I eat; I depend on Him to cleanse and renew my spirit. I come from nothing, and to nothing I will return without God’s love.

Humility and total dependency are themes that hit home hard during this season of life, and the realization that my heart could use some work along those lines cuts my pride real deep. I never do not have so far to go in these areas.

My 2 other verses for the week have non-coincidentally lined up with the Beatitudes’ personalized gut check:

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” Colossians 3:12

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition, or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves.” Philippians 2:3

I can only pray that these truths sink into my heart and course through my veins in these upcoming weeks and months.


If I say I am a Christian

So—a lot of feelings about a lot of things these days, eh? Every single person out there has got a huge opinion on everything from racism to coronavirus to aliens. (What? You’re not worried about aliens?) At the moment, I’m experiencing a major FOMO unlike any FOMO I’ve felt before—we’re continuing to lay low and be cautious through this pandemic, but shockingly, the world spins right on with or without us.

I admit, it’s tough to imagine our world as anything but blissful out here in our country bubble, but I’m lonely while all my friends are getting together. I‘m missing Sunday mornings in the church building. I’m disappointed for my husband and daughter who had prayers and hearts and plans fixed on Colombia this month. I’m worried for my vulnerable family members. I’m miffed when someone dismissively refers to cautious people like me as “sheeple”. I’m upset that racism exists. I hate that people of color don’t feel safe. I’m sad to see good people on all sides of the equation being attacked. I’m pained to see violence and looting in the very streets where people live and work. I’m concerned that people think defunding the police is the answer. I’m livid when people use their position of authority to hurt any group of people. I’m enraged when people use the Bible to further an agenda of hate and division.

I have to stop and check myself—I have all these strong feelings, and I want to lash out, but at the end of the day (actually at the beginning of the day), if I say I am a Christian (and I do), I need to first read the words in my Bible. So often I defer to the Bible after I’ve exhausted my own logic and rationale. I’m still learning. Still. And always.

If I say I am a Christian, than the Bible forms the base of everything I am as a person—my thoughts, my words and actions—they should all be influenced by what God has impressed upon my heart as I pray and study His Word.

This week I’ve been focusing on a few different books.

1. 1st Corinthians 16:14 says “Let all that you do be done in love.” Ok, this is less of a study and more of a verse that I have plastered in my closet so that I can read it every freaking day when I get dressed (or when I’m just chilling hiding from my kids.) I need this verse like I need water. It’s kind of catch-all knowledge that should frame my approach to every earthly scenario under the sun. Y’all hold me account to this because it is a sincere struggle for me depending on the day.

2. This bomb children’s show called The Mr. Phil Show, where a cartoon elephant and a cartoon turtle get schooled by the dude who created Veggie Tales. Right now, Caleb, Arbor, and I are learning about the book of Philippians. Chapter 2 verses 5-8 stand out: “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus. Who, existing in the form of God did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the line as of men. And when He has come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” My impression is that if the Son of God humbles Himself as a slave, and willingly suffers a humiliating and painful death at the hands of His enemies during His time on earth, then Toni can surely chill with the asserting of her measly opinion and also her incessant whining about all the temporal earthbound things.

Additionally, if I make my attitude like that of Christ Jesus, I have to look at every person with His eyes. The day I start thinking “all cops/black people/old people/millennials/atheists/Evangelicals/Muslims/liberals/conservatives/Democrats/Republicans/etc.” is the day I willfully stop doing that. When I say “it’s about time they feel scared/angry/attacked,” that’s the day I have made my ways higher than God’s, and I have claimed the vengeance that belongs to the Lord. When I quit listening and quit striving to love—that’s the day I have lost sight of what it means to be a beloved child, redeemed by our Savior and Creator.

3. And this…this…well. The Beatitudes. I chose, of course, to go over the most dopest sermon Jesus ever gave. Every word of the Sermon On The Mount gives me a weird combination of conviction and encouragement, but the Beatitudes sometimes jack with me. Anyway, growing up, whenever I read them, I always felt that they were ultimately a list of whimpy characteristics only a small set of super-Christians could ever truly exemplify. And really, even now at first glance, the list seems unappealing and unattainable in light of everything going on in the world. Gentle? Pssshh. Merciful? Pure in heart? Surely now is not the time for any of that! But I read on and get stuck on Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

And this is where I sit, because I have heard it taught before “ ‘Blessed are the peace-MAKERS.’ Not peace-lovers or peace-wish-for-ers.”

Biblically-speaking, being a peacemaker requires action. Peace must be made—actively made, before it can be kept. And it does require a unique braveness to undertake the task of reconciliation. If a relationship is broken, in order for it to be restored, you have to confront and work through your differences; it’s an integral part of the peace-making process. A peacemaker focuses on conflict resolution, on making necessary apologies promptly, and on righting wrongs.

A peacemaker knows that confrontation is not a dirty word, because “to confront” does not equate with “to go to war.” Issues must be wrestled with. Evil must be identified and confronted, driven out and eliminated.

A peacemaker refuses for seek revenge and a peacemaker humbly serves and loves his enemy.

A peacemaker makes his attitude like that of Christ, like Paul tells us to do in Philippians, and does everything in love, as he writes to the people of Corinth. A peacemaker may just be one of the least whimpy people in our society today.

A peacemaker is a son of God, and the Son of God is the peacemaker this world so desperately needs.


that time I mooned Capri

Gather round kids, and listen up.

(Not my photo)

I debated on whether or not to ever tell this story. I’m pretty sure my own mother doesn’t even know—or maybe she does—but in light of absolutely nothing, this pivotal weekend of my adolescence needs to be shared.

The year was 1993, and I was a 7th-grade Girl Scout. I stood as tall as I do today, minus about 60 pounds, and I rocked a worn-out perm like no one has ever rocked a worn-out perm. I wore overalls with both straps fully buckled, usually with a polka-dot-patterned short-sleeved mock turtleneck. Oh, and braces. When I talked, I schpit and schlobbered and schflung rubber bands schtlraight into people’s eyes.

Understand, I was a badass.

Anyhoo, I didn’t mean to be in the Girl Scouts of America, but there I was in Italy with nothing to do and nowhere to go—and I had heard a rumor that the tiny group of mostly new Cadets was going to go camping on Capri, if they had enough people. So I paid the dues, showed up to one or two meetings (I made paper out of old wet jeans, so there’s that) and on a fine spring Friday after school, we set off on a hydrofoil that glided the 7 of us straight over the water to the island.

There was me, somehow the designated jokester of the group; Kim, my freckle-faced, sunshine-chipper best friend; Tami, a quiet, tiny girl with a fluff of yellow hair on the top her head and large, owlish blue eyes; Autumn, the Girl Scout leader’s snootyish daughter; Candice and Lynette, best friends who always shared private jokes and who kept to themselves; and Becky, a big girl—a football big girl, with brown eyes and short brown hair and a major attitude, which I of course was intrigued by, but mainly for comedic purposes.

It was a good group, a good mix of personalities and I remember having a smashing good time just cutting up on the ride there. When we disembarked, a horrible but delicious secret truth was revealed: camping was illegal on Capri. We were going to be camping illegally. But our leader had a plan; she knew a guy who knew a guy who knew some monks. These monks would welcome us into their humble-crumble building, and allow us to set up tents on the grounds, far up into the woods on Monte Solaro, overlooking Capri and the Gulf of Naples.

It was quite the hike, and I was quite the pack mule. Me and Kim hauled a giant cooler, as well as our own packs, up that mountain trail. Nothing made us happier. We were BFFs camping on Capri.

Not everyone shared our enthusiasm for hoofing it uphill for hours on end; and the whining and complaining began right about mile .001. Seventh Grade Toni was having none of it, and made an instant mortal enemy out of Becky by—LISTEN—simply asking “well, why did you sign up to go camping if you don’t like to sweat or get dirty?”

I mean. What.

We eventually made it to the small chapel and thanked the monks. We then set up camp and did the Girl Scout thing for a while, which—for me, Kim, and Tami—was continued hiking in the surrounding forest. My enemy rolled her eyes and retreated into a tent with the rest of the girls to talk about boys and thumb through Seventeen magazine. We ate hotdogs and s’mores around a campfire, told stories, sang songs, and fell fast asleep relatively early.

The next day was our day to explore Capri. I could talk about all the amazing things we saw (The Blue Grotto) and ate (pasta) and did (haggled with street vendors to get deals on touristy crap we didn’t need but had to have), but the important thing was that my new enemy was being a royal beeyotch, and Autum, Candace, and Lynette were following suit. Tensions were high mid-afternoon, when we returned, hormonal and hangry, to the chapel after an unpredictably strenuous hike back from the town of Anacapri.

We sucked down the last of the toddler-sized Capri Suns in the cooler and glared at each other. I cared about One Thing and One Thing Only: food. Unfortunately for me, our leader thought we could all do with a less-than hearty meal of Top Ramen, lovingly prepared and served to us by the monks of the mountaintop.

Now if there’s any food I hate at all, (and there is—it’s Top Ramen) it’s Top Ramen. I tried, you guys, I did. I sipped. I nibbled. I lost it. I gagged, choked, sputtered, wretched, and wept. The Girl Scout leader hissed threats through clenched teeth at me but I just hate Top Ramen, like, so much. Autumn sneered. The rest of the girls sat silently eating their fake noodles, but I was committed to starving until we got home the next day. I Could. Not. Possibly eat a bite of Top Ramen, no matter how guilty I felt for turning down the noodles of holy men.

It was the monks, though, who smiled at me and had pity on me, and took away the ramen noodles. They probably commented in Italian what a spoiled brat I was being, but I’ve made my peace with that. An overwhelming sense of relief still washes over me to this day, when I think about the peanut butter sandwich they set before me at that old wooden table in that stone kitchen. Top Ramen is super gross.

But I digress, and a more pressing issue soon made itself known. Our leader pulled a few of us aside and informed us that we would be sleeping in beds in the monastery that night. She looked haggard and defeated. “But…why?” I pressed over and over. “Well…” she lowered her voice. “Becky has lice.”

Full confession: I had no idea what lice was. But before I could respond, Becky clambered out of her seat and fled the room.

All of us girls, minus Autumn, raced down the hill from the chapel to the tent, where we found Becky, with angry tears streaming down her red face, hurriedly packing her things.

Her mind was set on boarding the ferry for the mainland (a flawed plan since the last ferry had departed several hours earlier) and calling her mom to come pick her up in the heart of Bella Napoli in the middle of the night. This was the worst thing I could think of, not so much because I was concerned for her safety as I was for her rapidly deteriorating fun level.

She cussed me out as I grabbed her bag and dumped out everything she had packed. We were sweating bullets in that tent, and yelling louder and louder back and forth at each other—me, trying to convince her to stay; her, reminding me that we weren’t even friends.

This conversation ended just as dramatically as it began when I, probably because I watched The Goonies one too many times, made a long-winded and irrelevant speech about the value of sticking together, and then (again, without knowing what lice was) vowed—with God as my witness—to stay in that tent with her that night no matter what anyone said.

And just like that, my enemy was my friend, and my enemy’s friends were also my friends, and together, the six of us strode to the edge of the mountain near our campsite, where we contemplated the meaning of life while looking out at the stars sparkling in the sky over the distant lower part of the island.

And

we

thought

it’d be appropriate

to

drop trow and

moon Capri.

So we did just that, the 6 of us, and we cackled maniacally and shouted unintelligible gibberish, with our bare backsides pointed at Capri, because, solidarity, amirite? (Also, one does not simply keep one’s pants up when one is on a mountaintop in the dark.)

We spent our last night on Capri, in very close quarters in that miserably hot tent, all together. We stayed awake for most of the time whispering the stories of our lives to each other, with Becky’s being by far the most heartbreaking.

The weekend ended with a quiet ride across the water, back to the city. We were all done with camping for a while.

We all got lice. I’m sure my mom was appreciative of my commitment to an enemy as she picked nits out of my hair for four hours and washed all my things a thousand times over. As it turns out, I do quite abhor head lice. (But still not as much as I abhor Top Ramen.)

I went to Capri three more times over the next year, and whenever I looked up at Monte Solaro from the marina, I would giggle to myself. Capri didn’t know it, but it was my island.

But obviously never did I camp there again, because that would be illegal.


this lady I love

She told me she grew up poor in Ohio

And that she learned to play the bass, which, she often reminded me, “was not a “woman’s” instrument.” She rode the city bus with that giant thing and played in the orchestra. She’d been through a windshield and a thousand other things and her name was pronounced “SAHN-dra not SAND-ra.”

My grandpa met her at a dance hall; said he saw a beautiful tall blond girl leaning against a pole and had to muster up the courage to ask her to dance, but figured she wouldn’t, because he was Italian, or because he was short; but she did.

My great grandma did not want her dating an Italian; this was during a time when the KKK (partnering with local police in many areas, btw) sought to drive out not only blacks but Italians too, deeming them too “filthy” for our country. As a result, there were protests and riots in Ohio towns and cities. She risked it all for him—converted to Catholicism and married him. My grandma was way more badass than I ever gave her credit for. And my great grandma soon came around.

They moved to Florida and started a pizza restaurant. (My great grandma was their biggest supporter.) Soon they had many restaurants all over the southeastern United States.

They had my mother, Tina, and four more babies that didn’t make it past a few days old. I can’t imagine the kind of raging grief that brought upon her, having lost two of my own. They adopted three more children (Lori, Tony, and Tom) and raised them all in an old farmhouse on lots and lots of acres in Pensacola. They helped start St. Anne’s Roundup, which began as a humble chicken fry to raise money for the church. For 13 years she worked at that, making crafts to sell for the church and sewing costumes year-round. My Grampy built huge ovens on site so the church could sell tons and tons of bread. A successful business, adopting children, and contributing to their church and community—they were a dadgum power couple. So much for being filthy Italians.

I remember riding in the car, just me and her, during a hurricane evacuation, 8 hours to Montgomery. I remember riding with her two to three times a week to allllll the backwoods Alabama houses she held home interior parties at, to help her load and unload the decorations she sold. All the long talks we had, the jokes she made over and over. The way she would lazily sing whatever old song was in her mind. Every single one of the hundreds of meals at Shoney’s and Village Inn and Cracker Barrel, and the stories she told me about my mom and her sister and brothers.

I remember her asking me to come with her to pick up my brother from a central Florida prison, after my grandpa had died. I remember how my brother began to cry when I showed him some pictures I had of the last Christmas my Grampy was alive, and how Grammy yanked the car over off the side of the road, pulled him to her, hugged him for what felt like an hour. How she held him while he wept and how the tears streamed down her face, too.

This was the woman who must have sat up in the hospital with me for the entire first year of my life, praying over me and waiting for me to live or die. This was the woman who typed and framed the very first poem I ever wrote. This was the woman who encouraged me to reach out to my biological parents, who said she’d do whatever she could to help me. The woman who understood the importance of family and forgiveness more than almost anyone else I know, besides my Grampy. The woman who quietly went to mass alone on Sundays, who lit candles and prayed.

And I think of how tired and hurting she must have been for the last few years. And despite how strong of a person she had become over 86 years, I wonder if she was weary from the pain of life, or if she might even have longed for it to be over so that she could be with the people she missed…I hope that today my Grampy is anxious to see her, his tall blond dream girl. I hope he is watching and waiting to meet her again, and I know he can’t wait to have his beautiful wife and best friend with him in heaven.


these trying times

I had a breakdown the other day.

And another one yesterday.

And a little bit again today when I realized it was, indeed, time to wake up and feed the babies and do the things.

I’m obviously struggling with regular life–this quarantine thing is helping me out tremendously by forcing us all to stay home and not go to a thousand different events. The under-3 crowd is breaking me down cold; they are all going through the terrible two’s RIGHT NOW, at this very moment, all together at once, and y’all I’m too old for that sort of cardiovascular wear and tear.

I get out of bed at sunrise to the sound of screaming, with my heart already racing and my head pounding. I pour milk and make scrambled eggs and toast and raspberries and hash-browns and cereal, and then for second breakfast, I dish out yogurt and bananas. I change diapers and fetch toys and block off stairs, hallways, and bathrooms; I referee fights and fold a million tiny articles of clothing and wash a million dishes, all at great risk to my hearing because the decibel levels are off the charts in this living room.

My brain hurts, my chest hurts, my back and neck and legs and arms hurt. I can’t think straight or breathe deeply or relax or function or not cry.

Yesterday Caleb sent me to my room with a massive migraine. As I knelt before the toilet, willing myself not to throw up, he placed noise-cancelling headphones over my ears and wrapped a dark-colored sweatshirt around my eyes. He led me to bed, held a coke up for me to sip, and I slept for four hours.

I’d like to tell you that the migraine went away completely, or that I felt calm after my nap; I wish I had a perfect bible verse to relate to this situation and I wish I could say that everything was better this morning and my brain is firing on all cylinders, that the kids are all sweet and I never lose my temper. I wish I could end this blog with some kind of reassuring “I love my family and stay-at-home-momming is hard but soooo rewarding”.

Truth is, I’m still over-exhausted, mentally, on account of all the screaming. My headache won’t die and these kids have zero chill. We’ve played outside a good bit but we’ve also watched a LOT of tv. I’ve made healthy meals but I lost count of how many bowls of Fruity Pebbles came out of my kitchen yesterday alone.

I will not miss the dirty diapers or the extremely loud and constant fussing.

I love my husband. I love that he knows exactly what I need when I need it, even before I know. I’m thankful that he was home yesterday, otherwise I would’ve had to overdose on Tylenol and make peace with throwing-up every twenty minutes until the pain of the headache subsided.

And I do love my kids, all seven of them, and I know that this particularly challenging childhood phase will not last forever. That’s about as saccharine and nostalgic as I’m willing to get right now because babies are still going ape and my heart rate is still dangerously high. I’ll close with sunny pictures so one day I’ll look back and remember only the cute stuff.


Captain’s Log, Day 394, plus an existential crisis.

We are living our best life. I love quarantine. I LOVE IT. I am so serious. Sure, we’re a little worried about the job and the money, and sometimes the store doesn’t have the cereal we like, but for the most part (99.99999%) our family is doing spectacular and we can’t complain at all.

With school and sports being cancelled for the foreseeable future, the kids have turned their attention to more home-centered entertainment options: we’ve got big plans for a vegetable garden, and we can finally work on fencing and shelter for the sheep and goats we’ve been wanting to get since we moved out here five years ago. Arbor’s jazzed about planting sunflowers and roses; Caleb can finally finish up some long overdue projects, including building a large family table that we can all fit at, since we’re suddenly eating 3 meals a day all together. We even cleaned out our garage, which is one of the grossest, most hugest jobs we could possibly have tackled in this lifetime.

At 7:30, I put the little kids to bed after reading a book or six and a nice long soothing bubble bath, which I now have time to give them every single night. Then, Caleb and I watch a movie or play a game and eat a snack with the older kids. We talk about God and missions and future plans and heaven and hell and the world and the Bible and Jesus. There is nowhere we have to be and nothing so pressing that we have to do.

We rest, we read, we play. Life is so good right now for us, and this forced slowdown is actually welcomed. I am not one bit concerned about the health of those in my household–we are strong. We are safe. We have everything we need. This whole thing, for us, is not unfair. We are thankful, thankful, thankful.

What worries me are people who truly truly will not make it through these weeks, either monetarily or health-wise.

I worry about my parents, and Caleb’s parents, and my cousin, and my brothers-in-law. I worry about my Grammy in a nursing home. I worry about the older people at my church and the older people who work at the school down the road. I worry about my friends who have diabetes or lupus or multiple sclerosis or asthma.

I worry about people who live paycheck to paycheck and have been able to save very little; people who are self-employed. I worry about local businesses. I worry about servers and cashiers and busboys.

I worry about the people living in refugee camps around the world, in crowded and unsanitary conditions with no little to no resources, and no way out. I worry about people in third world countries with no access to doctors or medicine.

I feel for the people working in healthcare who will see firsthand the effects of this disease; I pray for them and their families. I think of all the nurses and doctors that I know, and how well my family has been taken care of over the years, and I praise God for putting all of them on this planet for a time such as this.

Admittedly, we are so sheltered, from panic and pain, here on our little plot of land; where nothing is more beautiful than watching sunsets from the front porch of our big white farmhouse, except for the babies with laughing bellies and kiddos running around on strong legs; this place, this green-grass, blue-sky place, it is as close to heaven as any place can be, and I know it.

What I don’t know is what to do with all that we’ve been given. I feel so burdened. Why has God given me so much and others so little? How dare I enjoy the comforts of home, good health, and economic security, when people in all corners of the globe are suffering? I know that God sees this whole thing unfolding and that Jesus saves and reigns forever–but where does He want us and what does He want us doing through all of this, and afterwards? How can we better love our neighbors, and the sick and the lonely and the hurting?

Would my faith be so strong if I weren’t sitting on a stocked pantry, or chugging clean water by the gallon? Would I praise God even in the face of danger? And how can I help brothers and sisters across the world who can personally answer these questions? Is my role in this life really so complicated–or do I simply do whatever I can do right where I stand? And why don’t I?


the not quiet place

Sometimes when your husband hates you for no reason, he buys your five-year-old the Barbie version of “Thumbelina”, even though you’ve made it a full 24 years of raising daughters without allowing such filth into your home, your sanctuary; he buys it and proudly “gifts” it to your daughter, who watches it over and over like it is animation gold, while you begin your steady descent into absolute twillerbee madness because guess what? It’s spring break and it’s scheduled to be rainy, and this is almost worse than that time he purchased Woody Woodpecker on dvd and went out of town for 10 days

I will make that bat rastard pay.

With all that I am, he will pay for the evil he’s done to me.

Also there’s the coronavirus which has extended our spring break by at least two weeks, and we are clearly prepared for it:

I ask you this: who’s really ready for an outbreak of doomsday proportions? A guy sitting on a year’s supply of tp, or the woman who thoughtfully hoarded flavored candy canes over the entire month of December?

Here’s a serious question: what’s up with all the moms posting online learning resources? Listen Linda Linda Linda! It’s technically spring break right now, and you need to calm the flip down. I’m not trying to hear about fun and easy homeschool activities I can do with my children while the world stops turning. Yes, ooo, free educational websites that have literally existed since the invention of the internet–you got people who can’t even wipe their butts right now; stop the madness and let your kids run around in the yard eating their eighth peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich of the morning, at least until the official end of spring break, I mean dang.

Here’s another serious question: why is everybody buying flour and sugar like it’s going out of style? What, are we all the sudden going to start baking this week? What the junk? Buy some freaking frozen pizza like a normal person and let the folks with 90 zillion kids have the flour which they use regularly with or without a zombie apocalypse.

And yes, that quarantine life is boring. I, for one, am so glad my tubes are tied. And a person can only #selfcare so much.

But instead of viewing these weeks as fun-sucking overkill, let’s perhaps consider this month (or two) as a lesson in loving our neighbor; in looking after others; taking care of the sick and the widowed and the poor; in not taking more than what you need; in being courteous and respectful and thoughtful. The world doesn’t revolve around us. Check on the older people in your life, see if there are any families that you know living paycheck to paycheck.

If anyone wonders, we are fine. This place is loud–it’s like the little ones just instinctively know that right now is the time to be extra insane–but we are fine, and this is where we’ll be: here at my house, eating candy canes, laughing at hilarious memes, and reading The Foot Book over and over again. If anyone needs food or toilet paper, we got you.


getting up off my butt finally

As per the norm, my head is ajumble with all kinds of thoughts including, but not limited to, alien invasion (always on guard, y’all), the Flu Round 2 (Hahahaha help), banishing cheese from my diet (again) (I don’t wanna talk about it), and starting a nonprofit.

Most of my wild ideas can easily be explained but this nonprofit thing is hard to share for some reason. I don’t know if it’s because we’re still in the little baby stages and the possibility of failure is statistically high; or if it’s because I don’t actually believe I’ve got what it takes to even get it off the ground, period.

When Caleb came back from Panama–or even before that–I could tell that God was doing a number on him. To convey, in words, the emotion that comes along with the heart-squeegeeing work of Jesus is pointless; nothing describes the love, excitement, and torment we’ve been experiencing these past 2 months.

And for the record, I was fine beforehand. Doing great actually. I’d been stirred before to do a thing, and the feeling went away; I was able to live my life in peace and tranquillity (and most importantly: comfort) for the last 7 years, not worrying about people down the street, much less around the globe.

I say this with all seriousness because I know how relatively easy I have it, even when I don’t: Life is awesome when you’re a middle-class white Christian stay-at-home-mom living smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt in rural America. This life was designed for me by people like me. The system came through–for us. To question the system is often seen as an insult to those around me:

“So you mean you wouldn’t get paid for this? Why would you go all the way to South America? Like for a vacation? Why would you learn Spanish? Don’t you know that downtown OKC is dangerous? Don’t you know those people are just looking for a handout? Don’t you know that people need to be taught to work instead of beg? Don’t you know that most of those people won’t give a crap about the gospel? Don’t you know that the coronavirus is rampaging through that part of the country? Why would you do this for free when you could make money? You deserve money for your hard work and creativity. What do you think it is you need to be doing ‘for God’?”

Me:

Let me be very clear: I cannot be very clear. I don’t know what exactly God wants out of me, but I do know some things:

God’s grace is a gift bestowed on me not because of anything I have done, or anything I am; nor was grace given based on the promise of what I might one day become. The material blessings He has given me and my family are things I didn’t earn in my own power, and they could all be taken away by this afternoon.

I have so much, but there are people within a half-a-mile radius who have so very little. I have hope and joy, but there are people in my own family who have only anger, regret, and despair.

God gave me hands and feet, and a mouth that never did learn how to shut up. He gave me a heart–and not an abnormally sensitive one, I might add, but just a regular old heart that pains at the thought of children and moms and dads lacking in basic needs like water, food, shelter, safety; a heart that wants nothing more than to share the hope that’s in it with people who need it–and everyone needs hope, not just Americans or Oklahomans or fellow Christians or family members.

Most of all I know this: when society ponders questions like “What does God say about all the poverty/abuse/neglect/sickness in the world?” I know without a doubt that His answer is “The Church”; the church does not mean people sitting comfortably in a designated building once a week. The church means me. And I’m not called–I’m commanded to go, and connect, and serve, love, and make disciples.

And so here we are, brainstorming and note-taking and studying and fretting over details–

–so concerned with doing this thing just so, to ensure that kids and parents are ministered to through art, and of course working our hardest so that God is glorified–

–when I remember–

that I, Toni, do not, in fact, have what it takes to get this off the ground.

–that God will be glorified through my obedience, not my expertise. God moves mountains–shockingly enough, without me having the best math skills. (That’s why He paired me with that financial whiz husband of mine.)

Already, He has moved people into positions alongside us to do what they do like the bosses that they are (paperwork, design, math, etc.). He has opened up doors and sped the process along; I’ve been blown away by the very obvious divine orchestration taking place before my very eyes.

You guys? I’m ready to stand back and watch God do something amazing.


the light of men

John 1: 4-5 says “Life was in Him, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it.”

It sounded pretty LOTR to me, so I read on. And now I’m of the mind to memorize the entire book of John, because, Tolkien’s hot bells, that’s good stuff.

I LURV the book of John; these two particular verses inspire me to do more than Baggins-binge–y’all we got to share this light that John talks about.

People say to me: “Yes girl! Speak your truth! I love your truth!” Thank you for that, but also: I have no original truth to speak, just a series of mild successes and miserable failures. I’m hit or miss on small amounts of goodness. Quirks and shortcomings are cool, but have you heard about my rage monster? Or my inner (and outer) super sloth? I got 99 problems and a sinful heart is behind all of them. I’m so serious.

I look around in all directions in what is supposed to be one of the most spiritually rich places in the Bible Belt (and–according to us–the world).

In every church there are “how to be a better person/a stronger leader/a faster runner/a supermodel if you didn’t love pizza so much/a more effective, assertive, and ultimately skinnier cardigan-clad version of yourself/and don’t forget coffee n canvas!/workshops and conferences and breakouts and keynotes and autobiographies and self-help books for sale

At every table in every hallway outside of every sanctuary

And it’s hard for me to remember simpler times when Jesus was enough

And He was my savior, my shepherd

My hope

My strength

My rescuer my redeemer

My everything

Before any major church leader told me anything at all

Before the complicated questions and questionable directions

Before denominations

Before church politics

Or election years

It was Jesus only Jesus and He was enough

So if I speak truth at all, let me speak of Jesus—the way the truth and the life.

The life that is the light of men.


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